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Book Review: The Original Frankenstein by Mary (and Percy) Shelley

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Mary Shelley was a rather extraordinary woman in her time, although this really had to be expected considering that her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the mothers of the Feminist Revolution. Still, the younger Mary managed to publish at 19 years old (anonymously) one of the most famous horror/sci-fi novels of all time, Frankenstein. It is still considered classic literature today, taught in many schools around the country, and the story of Frankenstein and his monster is well known in modern pop culture. There have been many versions of her book given, but now Vintage Books has come out with a new paperback original which will be of great interest to Mary Shelly fans.

The Original Frankenstein, edited and overseen by Charles E. Robinson, brings two different versions of the original novel to light. Taking one of the earlier drafts of Shelley's work, Robinson was able to separate the original drafts from the edited work that Shelley's husband Percy did on the novel. This way, fans of the novel are able to see Mary's original work and thought process of the story, and then also read the updated version that Percy assisted on. While the edited story is more well-known, it is absolutely fascinating to see Mary's first drafts and where the story started. At times the narrative is on the awkward side and cut off at odd junkets, or the sentences too long, but it gives a more accurate portrayal of Mary's real skill and fluid writing.

The plot is well known, but for the sake of argument, here is the general idea of this famous story of life and death. Captain Robert Walton sends a letter to his loving sister about a stranger that they brought upon board, and his very odd and sad story. Victor Frankenstein was a brilliant young man with a loving family, and he became obsessed with science. Playing God, he created life from death and brought a hideous creature into the world. Victor is horrified by the monster he made and scorns him, but his hatred and disdain turns the monster similarly to violence and cruelty. Treated poorly by every human he comes across, the monster starts threatening Frankenstein's family and life unless the scientist will create a companion for him. When Victor cannot accept bringing another monster to the world, he may just be sacrificing everything he loves to do what he thinks is right.

Charles Robinson opens the book with an introduction to his work that explains why he decided to look so closely into the earlier drafts of the Shelleys. He explains how he managed to separate Percy's editing from Mary's draft, and the book then separates into two. The first section is the edited and more familiar version of Frankenstein, and the second part is Mary's original draft. There are certainly places where you can see how Percy modified his wife's work, but it is important to note that the major plot points and all the best description was from her own pen. As any good editor, Percy merely helped clarify her work rather then turning it into his own creation. He did apparently add 5,000 words to the text, but they all work so perfectly with the already created story that unless you see them side by side — like in this novel — you wouldn't even realize where he altered it.

For any fan of Frankenstein, this is a great edition to pick up and see where the first seeds of genius started. It might actually be of great help to other writers or young writers just starting out as well, since it is interesting to see the process of her work turning into Percy's editing and then to the actual published novel. The excellence of this story remains steady almost 200 years later, and it is still worth a trip to the book store followed by a nice quiet evening reading. The Original Frankenstein is out in stores now and comes highly recommended to horror or literary fans.

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About Chelsea Doyle

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com Bill Sherman

    I remember once reading Shelley’s contribution to the night of storytelling that supposedly sparked the creation of Frankenstein, and I was not particularly impressed. Be interesting to see what he specifically brought to his wife’s tale.

  • http://waftingcurtains.wordpress.com Chelsea Doyle

    That’s really the purpose of the book, Bill. To show the earliest drafts and what Percy basically contributed. I found it rather fascinating, but I’m a Lit major; it shows!

  • http://saharsblog.wordpress.com Sahar

    The best couples are often those who happen to know how to work together :) It’s great to be able to go, in a way, ‘behind the scenes’ of this great book. I would love it if we could have the same thing with other great books, to see how the spouses and other family members helped in the creation of literary masterpieces.

    Again, great review – and yes, it shows (in a good way) that you are a lit major!